Isaac Witkin


Hayden Library (Bldg. 14S),
south lawn

Early in his career Witkin repudiated the passionate, emotional surfaces of the older generation of British sculptors whose work he saw as an expression of “post-war angst.” With Caro and other sculptors of the younger generation, he rejected the figure as a necessary basis for sculpture and began to explore an abstract sculptural language.

Witkin’s sculptures of the early 1960s were made of wood but he came to feel that the qualities of the material, its grain and color variations, tended to predetermine his sculptural forms and structure. Around 1963 he turned to fiberglass, the impersonality, passivity, and neutrality of which forced him to rely wholly on his own sculptural imagination. In 1965, he was appointed artist-in-residence at Bennington College, Vermont. Shortly thereafter, he repeated a fiberglass sculpture in sheet steel, and continued to work in sheet and cast metal.

Witkin’s Angola, installed at MIT at 1978, was fabricated in 1968. It is from an edition of three in Cor-Ten steel executed by the artist after the original in mild steel of 1967. The two others are in a private collection in Des Moines and in Wave Hill Sculpture Gardens, Riverdale, New York, on loan from the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Collection. Angola of 1967 is a reworking of another sculpture of the same title made in 1966, of which an example is in the Tate Gallery, London. The 1966 sculpture differs from the later version only in its lack of the concave semi-cylindncal element on the right end and the application of paint over the metal. In Angola, Witkin sought to imply but not to define volumes and to achieve mass by means that are not massive. The metal planes cut, slice, enfold, and mold space; the emphasis, as Witkin notes, is “on a feeling of carved space.” The thin, sheet metal forms are basically geometric and offer no direct naturalistic allusions. Semi-cylindrical elements are played against right-angled ones and open forms against closed, producing a duality of the material shapes and of the resulting volumes. Concavity versus convexity is explored and the implication of volume is ambiguous, depending on which side is seen as being inside and which outside. The cantilevered projections of curved planes swing out freely into space, anchored by the angular shapes that sit weightily on the ground. Tension arises from the contrast of vertically floating elements against horizontally grounded ones. The formal dualities of anchored and floating, curved and angled, open and closed, concave and convex suggest opposing movements through space. Witkin has remarked that he is “concerned to catch an essential dynamic—a tension, a movement, a rhythm or growth—and to hold it at its most forceful moment of posture.” His sculptural implications of energy and movement become metaphors for the energy of the human body.

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Isaac Witkin






Cor-ten steel


85 in. x 103 in. x 72 in. (215.9 cm x 261.62 cm x 182.88 cm)


Gift of a Member of the Council for the Arts at MIT